Gays seek right to divorce

In some states, same-sex couples fight for right to separate.
Associated Press
Dec 1, 2013


Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham wants to force Mississippi, one of the America's most conservative states, to recognize her same-sex marriage. She hopes to do so by getting a divorce.

She and Dana Ann Melancon traveled from Mississippi to San Francisco to get married in 2008. The wedding was all Czekala-Chatham hoped it would be, the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, dreams for a promising future. She wrote the vows herself.

The couple bought a house together in Walls, a town of about 1,100 in northern Mississippi's DeSoto County in June 2009. But the marriage was tumultuous and, like so many others, it didn't last.

Czekala-Chatham, a 51-year-old credit analyst and mother of two teenage sons from an earlier straight marriage, filed for divorce in chancery court in September. She wants to force Mississippi to recognize the same-sex marriage for the purpose of granting the divorce.

"It's humiliating to know that you spend that money, that time to be in a committed relationship and for it to end. I mean, that hurts. But then to be in a state that doesn't recognize you as a human being, or recognize you for who you are, for who you love, it's hard," Czekala-Chatham said during an interview at her current home in Hernando. "I'm not treated like the neighbors next door. I'm treated like a second-class citizen."

She has plenty of company among gay and lesbian couples in other conservative states, although thus far only a few have pursued divorce cases in the courts.

Even as the number of states legalizing same-sex marriage will soon grow to 16, most states — like Mississippi — refuse to recognize such unions or to help dissolve them. Gay couples who move to those states after marrying elsewhere face roadblocks if they wish to divorce, as do couples from those states who make a brief foray out-of-state to get married.

Often, such couples in non-recognition states would have to move back to the state where they were married and establish residency in order to get divorced — an option that can be unworkable in many cases.

"The idea you can't go to your local courthouse and file for divorce is very disruptive," said Peter Zupcofska, a Boston lawyer who has represented many gay and lesbian clients in marriage and divorce cases. "It's an enormous waste of effort and time."

The right to divorce isn't as upbeat a topic as the right to marry, but gay-rights lawyers and activists say it's equally important.

"The marriage system is a way we recognize and protect the commitments people make to their partner," said James Esseks, director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project at the American Civil Liberties Union.

"Part of that system is creating a predictable, regularized way of dealing with the reality that relationships sometimes end," he said. "Those are the times people are the worst to each other, and that's why we have divorce courts. There's got to be an adult in the room."

On a recent evening, in the one-story brick house she shares with her two children, a new girlfriend and several pets, Czekala-Chatham sat on the edge of a leather recliner, shaking her head.

"Why should I be treated differently, you know?" she said. "When the courthouse is a few blocks from here, I should be able to walk up there and get married. I should also be able to go up there and get divorced."

She could get a divorce in California, but her lawyer argues that Mississippi wouldn't recognize the divorce and their marital property would remain "in limbo."

Melancon's lawyer, Chad Reeves, filed a motion to dismiss the divorce complaint based on the argument that Mississippi can't grant a divorce for a marriage that it doesn't recognize. However, Reeves told The Associated Press on Friday that the motion was withdrawn after the parties signed an agreement related to division of property and debts.

Reeves said he opposed the divorce because Czekala-Chatham asked for alimony, among other things, but those matters have been settled. He said Melancon will get the house, and won't have to pay alimony. Czekala-Chatham says she doesn't care, she just wants the divorce.

A hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Melancon, who now lives in Arkansas, declined to be interviewed. She said in an email that she wants the divorce, but the "avenues to pursue are vague and expensive." She did not elaborate.

The Mississippi Attorney General's office filed a motion to intervene on Nov. 15 that said the divorce petition should be dismissed.

Mississippi "has no obligation to give effect to California laws that are contrary to Mississippi's expressly stated public policy," the motion argues. "That legitimate policy choice precludes recognition of other States' same sex marriages for any reason, including granting a divorce."

Legal experts say getting Mississippi to recognize the marriage for any purpose is a longshot. Lawmakers amended state law in 1997 to say any same-sex marriage "is prohibited and null and void from the beginning. Any marriage between persons of the same gender that is valid in another jurisdiction does not constitute a legal or valid marriage in Mississippi."

In 2004, 86 percent of Mississippi voters approved an amendment placing a ban on same-sex marriage in the state constitution.

In his arguments for a divorce, Czekala-Chatham's lawyer, Wesley Hisaw, cites a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act and ordered the U.S. government to recognize legal same-sex marriages. That has created a situation where same-sex couples "are married lawfully under the laws of the United States, but not under Mississippi law," Hisaw contends.

He also argues that bigamous and incestuous marriages are considered "void" in Mississippi, just like same-sex marriages, but bigamy and incest are also grounds for divorce.

"There can be no legitimate state purpose in allowing bigamous or incestuous couples to divorce and not allowing the same remedy to same-sex couples," he wrote.

Right-to-divorce cases have cropped up in some other states with constitutional bans on same-sex marriage. On Nov. 5, the Texas Supreme Court heard arguments about whether the state can grant divorces to gay couples married elsewhere.

The plaintiffs are couples from Austin and Dallas who married in Massachusetts and later filed for divorce in Texas. The Austin couple was granted a divorce, but Attorney General Greg Abbott intervened in the Dallas case and won an appeals court decision blocking a divorce.

In the oral arguments, Assistant Attorney General James Blacklock argued there's no way for Texas to grant a divorce because of the constitutional ban.

"There's no marriage here," he said. "So there can be no divorce."

A similar case has just commenced in Kentucky, where two women married in Massachusetts are seeking a divorce.

At least one same-sex couple has been able to get a divorce in a state that doesn't officially recognize same-sex unions. In 2011, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that two women married in Canada could get a divorce in the state, reversing a ruling by a district judge.

While the issue of same-sex divorce has drawn increasing attention, there is little in the way of comprehensive data to help draw comparisons between the divorce rates of gay couples and heterosexual couples.

One of the few large-scale studies addressing the question was conducted by Michael Rosenfeld, a sociology professor at Stanford University. He assessed the breakup rates among about 3,000 couples since 2009, and concluded there was little difference between gay couples and straight couples.

Depending on a couple's circumstances, a host of weighty matters can be affected by the inability to divorce — division of property, child custody, health coverage for a spouse, the ability to get remarried. In some cases, the inability to divorce could mean that an estranged spouse would continue to receive spousal benefits even though the other partner wanted those benefits halted so he or she could move on to a new relationship.

"It's really problematic for people in getting on with their lives, being considered single again," said Kenneth Upton Jr., an attorney in the Dallas office of Lambda Legal, a national gay-rights group.


Crary reported from New York.


Follow Holbrook Mohr at and David Crary at



Raoul Duke



Re: "She and Dana Ann Melancon traveled from Mississippi to San Francisco to get married in 2008,"

So why not return to CA for the divorce?


Any fool with enough money for a license can get married in 5 minutes, but you must be a resident for 6 months to get a divorce.


Re: "a resident for 6 months to get a divorce."

Begs the question.

Gotta luv the liberals who childishly expect others to clean up, undo and pay for the "messes," that they themselves make.

Surprising that the "Land of Fruits and Nuts" doesn't have a 5 min. divorce.


No, as the article says, they can get a divorce in CA without establishing residency.


But they fought so hard for their perfect marriage????

The Big Dog's back

"Gotta luv the liberals who childishly expect others to clean up, undo and pay for the "messes," that they themselves make."

Like bush's mess? I thought we had equal rights in America? For everyone.

I have a confession to make. I believe in Evolution and Creationism. God created Liberals and right wingers are STILL trying to evolve from apes.


Can you have a thought with out blaming Bush in it? Or does he consume all your ideas?

The Big Dog's back

I responded to pooh blaming everything on Liberals. Gee, you aren't bias are you.




Liberals are the least informed among us, you prove that premise every dam* time you post. You have no insight, no argument so you drivel on with the Bush Derangement Syndrome. No wonder you all elected the most inept person on earth for POTUS, you do not have a modicum of sense.


sugar you are an idiot


Yeah, Contango and YoMamma, because heterosexual marriages are so perfect. What is the divorce rate now? I believe it's at about 50 percent. Listen, gays should have the same rights as all straight Americans. There are property ans asset distribution issues in the dissolution of any marriage. Get over yourselves and stop thinking that you are somehow superior to those that are different than you. No, Liberals don't "childishly expect others to clean up" any messes, they'd just like to see a land where everyone is treated equally and fairly.


Re: "gays should have the same rights as all straight Americans,"

Agree. LGBTs should have the "right" to a 50% (or higher) divorce rate as "straights."

The already wealthy lawyers will enjoy the increased compensation.

The point: They got married in CA, get divorced in CA.

Or, let them agree on an amicable contractual distribution of assets. Since MS doesn't recognize same-sex marriage, this possibly could be done without the necessity of a divorce.

Reads like there's "trouble in Paradise."

The Big Dog's back

What dumb logic.

2cents's picture

So then in MS there is no marriage, what is the problem? Split up and go about your business, if you ever spend 6 months in CA get it official in CA! Simple.....


Exactly Contango - they don't need a divorce. If they've worked out the distribution of assets, just sign over the necessary titles, hand over the necessary stuff, and go their separate ways. A LOT of straight couples might envy them in that.


Same sex, same problems!

A Young Adult's...

Are these lesbians dumb? Of course Mississippi of all states won't recognize your divorce. What made you think they would after you were already aware they did not recognize your marriage?


Contango, you might want to get your facts from somewhere other than Fox News. The divorce rate for same sex couples is much lower than hetero couples (anywhere from 20 to 50 percent lower, depending on the study).

I don't think any gay rights advocate has ever tried to paint marriage equity as "Paradise", but they would like the same rights that straight couples enjoy. How do you think the straight couples would take it if they had to go back to Las Vegas or Hawaii (or wherever they were married) to get their divorce? Hey, maybe you're on to something here!


Re: "The divorce rate for same sex couples is much lower than hetero couples,"

As more states recognize LGBT marriages, that percentage should increase should it not?

Don't want to deny them their right to a divorce do we? Bring 'em on!
The lawyers need the business!

Better to perhaps take this dissolution to arbitration than wait for the political process (which could take years) don't you think?

"Trouble in Paradise," i.e. it's a "fairness" issue.

JMOP's picture

Simpleton. No one mentioned getting their news from Fox.

The Big Dog's back

Exactly, because there isn't a news dept. at fox.


Another one with a boogyman, if it's not Bush it's Fox news. The ignorance astounds me!


your ignorance astounds me.

thinkagain's picture

Homosexuality cannot be compared with civil rights because homosexuality is a behavior one chooses while race is a color one is born with. A moral wrong is not a civil right.


Re: "civil rights"

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,"

- From the Preamble of the Declaration of Independence

Only govt. can restrict and deny these "rights."


Homosexuality is not simply a behavior! Paying hookers is a behavior. Who decides what is moral? You? Me? You can only decide for yourself. He/she has the RIGHT to be who they are!


THANK YOU! No I am not Gay or Lesbian, I just have many friends and family that are!


The actions associated with it are still behaviors. Can't get past that.


Bull! Exactly what actions? Is heterosexuality a behavior?


No, it's not, but, again, the actions associated with it are. Orientation, either way, is a state of mind - it affects what one desires to do. All it does is provide motivation, but the actions arising from that motivation are chosen behaviors. The only actual knowledge anyone can have of another person is their observable behavior, because we can't read minds. However, that doesn't stop people from conflating behavior with the state of mind that motivates it. Even stating one's orientation is a behavior that may or may not reveal the actual underlying orientation, since one could lie. Thus, the question becomes whether one is acting based on the behavior or the state of mind motivating it.

If the former, well, there are lots of behaviors you or I might view as harmless that are condemned by various segments of society, or even prohibited by law, and society seems able to civilly debate the merits of such condemnations and prohibitions without calling each other nasty names.

If you claim that opponents are acting because of the latter, then the question becomes, how do they know, absent the behavior?


Ignorant bigot.


Thinkagain, so homosexuality is a behavior that one chooses? Wow. So that means that you, thinkagain, could choose to be a homosexual if you wanted? Well I'm blown away. I'm a heterosexual and there is just no way on Earth that I could choose to be a homosexual - I am what I am. I'm glad to hear that you can just change your sexuality at the drop of a hat, though. You're the first person that I've ever heard of that can do that. Congrats!


I was refering to thinkagain.

thinkagain's picture

Really??? I bet no one could have figured that out on their own. I shouldn’t be making fun of your intelligence, after all, you can’t help it you were born that way.


At least you KNOW you are a bigot.

Pioneer Trail Pimp

I don't believe that someone chooses their sexuality. However, thinkagain, if you choose to be a homosexual for one year and then revert to being a heterosexual after the year is up, I will agree with your belief that sexuality is a choice. Will you convince me?


I'd love to see think again take you up on that challenge. lol


There are many who have done so. Does the name Anne Heche ring a bell?

That's the biggest problem with this issue - we could end up with a protected class in which anyone can claim or renounce membership at will.


money has the power to make you change your sexuality

thinkagain's picture

Just for you, I will forego usage of the word “choice”. Would you prefer I use the more accurate description “developmental disorder”, brought about by the desire for self-degradation?

Homosexuality, like drug addiction or alcoholism, is a destructive behavior that we should never encourage people to continue. Studies have established that homosexuality is more deadly than smoking, alcoholism or drug addiction.

Changing societal standards brought about by moral relativists, have championed this lifestyle. How very hypocritical to hear someone claim to have a homosexual friend or loved one, yet not be willing to truly help them.

Unlike those hypocrites, Christians who speak the truth about homosexuality, do so with their best interest at heart. Not only in this life, but for the life to come.


So now I have a developmental disorder and am into self degradation? Interesting theory! If my destructive behavior is that I have been with my other half for 9 yrs, we are both highly educated, work hard, pay taxes and are buying a house together ... Then I will keep my destructive behavior and my life! I would marry her in a heartbeat because I love her! No one gets married with divorce on their mind .. Gay or straight! Of course if same sex marriage becomes legal then yes, divorce rate would go up because there would be more marriage. Straight people jump into marriage all the time just to divorce within a yr or so ... No relationship is perfect and I don't think any gay person has ever said they were perfect nor would they say their relationship was perfect.

I can't say that I completely agree with the couple fighting to get divorced in a state that doesn't recognize it to begin with.i am not running off to get married in a state that allows it just to have it. I am not married here because it's not legal, but if it was then I would be married. I believe it should be equal in all states. My lifestyle is not hurting anyone. If it is hurting you, then it is you that lets other affect your life. So spend more time worrying about your future life to come and whatnot and spend less time worrying about the life's of others!


That was exactly what I was trying to explain. You're happy, you're not hurting anyone. And if someone feels you or your lifestyle is "hurting" them, then something is wrong with them. Anyone who degrades you for your choice in your life is a bigot.

Thinkagain just got owned.

JMOP's picture

Why is it that every time someone makes their argument about being gay, they add their highly educated?
It's not fair for me to ask you that on behalf of every gay poster on here, so I'll just ask you why you added that.


Because a lot of posters assume they are stupid, ignorant or uneducated.


That is exactly why ... A lot of people insinuate that gay people are ignorant and awful. I was just making the point that we work just as hard as many straight married couples in life ... My lifestyle was not one that I chose, but is who I am. Obviously as same sex marriage becomes legal all over .. The divorce rate for same sex couples will go up. Nothing is perfect.

JMOP's picture

For starters, the so called lesbian in this article was in a heterosexual marriage.
Since science can't prove there is a gay gene, we have to rely on the laws of nature, which is reproducing. Need sperm and eggs for that.


the laws of nature is reproducing? I thought it was survival of the fittest? obviously some fit people are really stupid.


Hahaha could see this coming a mile away, divorce, lol, the only people who will get anything out of gay marriage are the lawyers they will pay to get divorced. Dumb broads probably ran off to get married because they could and it was the cool thing to do.


that's a really really stupid comment.


Ok thinkagain.... at least I have sources..... uninformed my a$$....

And this next one does say people cannot be born gay, I do not agree with it but whatever.

thinkagain's picture

Yes, homosexual behavior is a CHOICE. Humans, at least the rational ones, try to understand causation.

People who CHOOSE this alternative lifestyle, strive to give legitimacy to themselves, because it is unnatural and against God's law. They feel inclined to force everyone to not only accept them, but to approve of them.

In short, it's time for homosexual activists to get off their high horses. You do not have a right to demand that I or anyone else respect it, consider it "normal" or sanction it.

We are all given to a variety of worldly perversions, that's the meaning of Christmas. Jesus would not have come to earth to take on our sins if we were not sinful.


Never have I met one gay that has felt inclined to force anyone to accept them or approve of them. I have never had a gay demand that I or anyone respect them or consider them normal. All they ask for is a little courtesy.

Now, the same cannot be said about people such as yourself. Don't get my wrong, I believe in God and Jesus. But to be a bible thumper, you are the one who demands respect and demand that we sanction every single one of your beliefs. I have had many many highly religious people try and force their lifestyle upon me by belittling and being demeaning towards me.

Jesus created everyone equal. There is no normal. You are who you are and he didn't approve of being judgemental. Religious people are some of thee MOST judgemental people I've EVER met.

I'm a woman, I had a child before marriage, I have about 9 tattoos, 3-7 piercings and I've kissed a girl. So now am I asking to be degraded? Am I demanding that you respect what I've done or accept it? Am I forcing you to believe and live my lifestyle???? No, all I am asking is that you hold your judgement of me because you do not know me for my everyday life and actions. And quite honestly, you're missing out. I am a very caring person. Most gays are some of the best people I've ever encountered. You really are missing out on their person because you want to degrade them.

Judge me not lest ye be judged.

thinkagain's picture

Once again another biblical illiterate butchers the true meaning of Matthew 7:1-5.

Ironically, the one who cries "judge not" is often the one passing judgment on others, as proven by your response.

If you would actually take the time to read the entire passage and were intellectually honest, you would admit that it is actually teaching Christians how to judge, not to refrain from judging.

There are many other passages and verses in the Bible about God commanding his own to judge according to the Word of God. Should you require those scriptures let me know. I’m always happy to bring light to those in darkness.


I do not need your light to darkness. I know where I was going with my comment. I do not jidge negatively as I do not want my children to grow up thinking that is ok. And how was I passing judgement on others? I most definitely was not. I was stating the facts I know on how every single religious person I have come in contact with has negatively and consistently passed judgement the wrong way. Take my comment how you'd like.

JMOP's picture

Would that make you a bigot? You are judging every religious person you've came in contact with and disagree with them.
Definition of a bigot: : a person who is or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices ; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.
I've never understood how the word bigot could be used. It's a contradiction in itself.


No, I am not a bigot. I do not disagree with everything every religious person does, says or believes. I however do not appreciate them trying to shove ALL of their beliefs down my throat. I also do not like that every HIGHLY religious person, not every religious person, judge me because I have tattoos, piercings and a child out of wedlock. I don't judge people on their lifestyles nor their choices. It is not my place to judge. And I wasn't judging them and I do not treat them with hatred or intolerance. But I will not be bullied by them either

JMOP's picture

Thanks for the clarification


"I don't judge people on their lifestyles nor their choices."

Oh, but you DO.

Let's look at this dispassionately for a second.

ALL reasonable people draw a line around sexual conduct that they consider morally acceptable and condemn everything outside that line. There's a broad spectrum of WHERE they draw that line.

-A sect called the Shakers placed ALL sex outside the line (which may explain why, after a run of about 200 years, there are only three members remaining, all of them octegenarians.)

-Most traditional western religions draw the line around the bounds of wedlock between one man and one woman.

-Some sects include wedlock between one man and multiple women.

-Some people draw the line around two differently gendered people who are committed to each other.

-Some say only if you're in love.

-Some say only with one partner at a time.

-Some say only with a member of the opposite gender.

-Some draw the line around loving, non-abusive relationships.

-Some people, and most laws, draw the line around "amateur status" i.e. no sex for money.

-Some people, and most laws, draw the line around mutual consent.

-Some people, and most laws, draw the line around both partners having attained a specified minimum age.

It's a broad spectrum - some of the positions are only widely held within our penal system, and this list of points along the line is by no means exhaustive.

The point is, you are making all sorts of nasty accusations against people simply because they differ with you on where that line should be drawn, by a degree that amounts to a relatively small slice of that spectrum, and the way popular views of sexuality are moving in this society, it may not be long before you find yourself being similarly condemned as a hateful bigot by a sizable contingent who draw the line closer to the end of that list than you do.

The belief that certain conduct is immoral does not equate to hatred of those who are motivated to engage in that conduct, and to assert that equivalence, as you have done, amounts to demonizing people by ascribing nasty reasons to their disagreement with you.

Most real people of faith would not judge you for the things you have done in your past, but rather for what you now think about those things.